Resolving iPhone GPS issues

Some runkeeper users experience regular or intermittent problems getting a decent GPS fix. There are a number of reasons for this normally and this post will try to explain them and the possible resolutions.

Firstly, the iphone’s GPS receiver isn’t the best or most reliable. This is the common denominator of most of the GPS related issues that Runkeeper (and other tracking app) users face.

Due to the quality of the GPS on the iPhone, the tracking capability can easily be affected by:

– adverse weather (cloud, rain etc)
– tall trees and buildings blocking the signal from the satellites
– strong interference

Ideal conditions for the best GPS coverage are:

– clear sky
– no trees or buildings
– clear line of sight to sky

It’s often easy to think you have a decent GPS signal but more often than not, due to the fact that the iPhone uses ‘assisted GPS’, when the iPhone is giving poor locational position, it’s due to the iPhone compensating for a bad GPS reception by estimating position by using either triangulation using mobile network signal or local WiFi ‘hotspots’.

Herebare my hints and tips for making sure Runkeeper captures an accurate route:

(a) Make sure Airplane mode is off – The iPhone’s GPS is turned off is you have ‘Airplane mode’ set to on. Make sure it’s off.

(c) Turn off WiFi – Due to triangulation, turn off WiFi when you’re about to commence an activity.

(d) Make sure the iPhone has a clear line of sight to the sky – this means making sure that the signal isn’t obscured by clothing or other material, e.g. when placed in a pocket. For beat operation, use an armband.

(e) Be patient – The iPhone can take 30 seconds or more to get a GPS fix. Prior to commencing a run with Runkeeper, keep this in mind. To give the iPhone time to get a decent fix, I’ll often open up Google Maps and check how big the blue circle is. If the iPhone hasn’t captured GPS for a while, you’ll notice that at first, there is a large circle with a blue dot at the centre of it and that the outer circle gradually gets smaller and smaller until you see just the blue dot. This gradual improvement over up to 2 minutes is caused by the iPhone gradually picking up the signal from several GPS satellites. You only have a good GPS signal once you see a blue dot with no outer circle.

This tip serves a number of purposes:

– it gives the iPhone time to lock on a decent GPS signal

– it gives you a clear indication of the quality of the signal and the iPhone’s best guess at your location

Once the iPhone has a decent GPS lock, open up Runkeeper.

(f) Only start your activity once Runkeeper has a green GPS indicator -if the GPS indicator is yellow or red, your positional information is too inaccurate and this will adversely affect your activity stats.

(g) Reset Location Warnings – for some reason, resetting location warnings can resolve GPS related issues. If you’re experiencing problems, give this a try.

(h) Reset your iPhone – due to the complexity of the iPhone and the apps that run on it, memory can become corrupt or memory leaks can occur (this is my understanding). This can lead to unexpected iPhone behaviour such as poor GPS operation. My advice is to regularly reset your iPhone by simultaneously holding down the top lock button and the ‘home’ button until you see the white Apple symbol. Wait until the iPhone reboots.

(i) try a different GPS tracking app – to highlight the fact that the issue isn’t related to Runkeeper, try a different free GPS tracking app such as Motion X.

(j) Delete and reinstall the app – if you experience GPS issues after upgrading Runkeeper, delete the app from the iPhone and iTunes and then reinstall from iTunes. It is believed that some users experience corrupt upgrade installations which cause unexpected behaviour with certain Runkeeper features. Please note that:

– deleting the app will result in the loss of activity history on your iPhone. However, the activity history is still safe on the Runkeeper website. You’ll also lose any training workouts you’ve defined.

If you are still experiencing GPS related problems after following all of these tips an you are unable to get a decent GPS fix in Google Maps, Runkeeper and/or other GPS tracking apps, take your iPhone to an Apple store so that they can investigate.

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